Arab Mayors Slams Israel's 'Bad Decision' to Enlist Shin Bet to Fight Crime

While Bennett said that Israel's army would also help suppress crime, defense officials 'do not believe' it is legal to involve army forces in police operations that involve Israeli citizens

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Mothers who lost children to crime in the Arab community protest against crime in front of the public security minister's home, last month.
Mothers who lost children to crime in the Arab community protest against crime in front of the public security minister's home, last month. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The committee of Arab mayors in Israel took the Israeli government to task Monday over its decision to involve the Shin Bet security service in the fight against the wave of crime in Arab communities around the country.

The Arab mayors’ group called the move “a bad decision, which results from viewing the Arab population as a security threat rather than Israeli citizens with equal rights who are in a situation of distress."

"When a crime wave rages from crime families in the Jewish community, the government never for a moment considers using such means” to suppress it, the group added.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office announced Sunday that the Shin Bet and the Israel Defense Forces will join efforts with the police to deal with illegal weapons in the Arab community.

Neither the Shin Bet nor the army is expected to have direct contact with the Arab public, however, and their involvement is to be limited, sources involved in the ministerial committee on combatting Arab crime have said. The prime minister’s office confirmed that the decision to involve the Shin Bet and the army was taken on Sunday at the ministerial committee’s initial meeting but added that the division of responsibility among the police, the army and the Shin Bet is not yet clear.

“The Shin Bet has the extreme means that are liable to substantially violate the individual rights of the [Arab] community and not only those of the crime organizations,” the Arab mayors’ group said. “Injecting the Shin Bet’s practices into this civilian population is a serious and dangerous step. This decision demonstrates the failure of the police to deal with the rising crime in Arab society.”

In remarks on Monday, Prime Minister Bennett made reference to the anticipated role of the Shin Bet in the effort to suppress crime, saying that it would be limited to “areas that don’t create tension with its role according to the law and that is demonstrated through its comparative advantage.” Speaking at a ceremony recognizing outstanding service by members of the Shin Bet, Bennett thanked the agency, which he said was “again being enlisted for a national mission – the fight against the violence raging in Arab society.”

Israeli army officials expressed surprise that the IDF is being enlisted in the effort, saying that they learned of the decision from media reports. No representatives from the army or the Defense Ministry participated in the ministerial committee meeting itself. Following the announcement, one defense official told Haaretz that the defense establishment does not believe it's possible to involve army forces in police operations that involve Israeli citizens.

For his part, Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, who oversees the police, tweeted Monday that the army would not be involved in dealing with Arab community crime. In an effort to clarify media reports on the subject, he wrote that the ministerial committee did not consider involving the army in the task.

“The IDF has no role in the plan that is being pursued by the Public Security Ministry,” he tweeted. “During the entire session, the term ‘IDF’ was only mentioned in the context of the theft of weapons from its bases and in preventing that,” Bar-Lev wrote.

In an interview on the Arabic-language radio station Al-Shams on Monday, Deputy Public Security Minister Yoav Segalovitz said the army would not be entering Arab towns, which would not have armored personnel carriers on their streets. “The role of the army will be to prevent weapons smuggling and stealing of weapons from its weapons supply and bases and nothing beyond that.”

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